Palm Sunday 2018

March 25, 2018 in Bible - NT - Luke, Cross of Christ, Meditations

Luke 9:51–56 (NKJV)
51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for [Jesus] to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” 55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it was the culmination of intentional planning on his part. From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus understood that one day He would be called upon to enter into Jerusalem only to be rejected and killed. And it is this fixed purpose of Jesus to die for His people which Luke highlights for us in our text today.

Luke tells us that when the time had come for Jesus to be received up – in other words, when the time had come for Jesus to be crucified, the time when He would be delivered over to the scribes and chief priests, and rejected, and put to death – when that time had arrived, Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. He knew it was in that city that the final contest would be waged. So He did not shrink back in fear or waver in unbelief but steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. He went to His death willingly and courageously.

As Jesus and his disciples travel to Jerusalem, they come to a Samaritan village, but the village rejects Him and refuses to grant him and his disciples shelter. Why? Listen to Luke’s words: But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. The villagers rejected Jesus as a foretaste of the destiny that awaited him in Jerusalem. He goes to Jerusalem to suffer and be rejected.

Why? Jesus’ rebuke of James’ and John’s vindictiveness gives the answer. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. Jesus is going to Jerusalem so that He might save men, women, and children from sin and death, save them from the ravages of the Evil One. He is going to Jerusalem to give His life a sacrifice for others, to give His life so that the just penalty of the law might be paid by Him so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem to die. He went to Jerusalem willingly, courageously, and sacrificially.

It is fitting, therefore, on Palm Sunday – this day that we celebrate the entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem – that our color changes to red – for red is the color of blood and it was to shed His blood that Jesus entered into the city. While Jesus was acclaimed today, He knew that this acclamation would not continue and that the end of the story would be bloody. He had set His face to go to Jerusalem.

This morning we are reminded that Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem for our sins. There is forgiveness with the Lord, that He may be feared. If He hated sin so much that He was willing to send His own Son to die for it, then ought not we to hate sin as well? As we enter into the presence of the Lord, therefore, let us confess our sins in the Name of Christ and seek the Lord’s forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus our Savior. As we do so, and as you are able, let us kneel. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Babies, Baptism, and the Kingdom of God

January 28, 2018 in Baptism, Bible - NT - Luke, Children, Parents

Luke 18:15-17 (NKJV)
15 Then they also brought infants to [Jesus] that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 17 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

Today I have the privilege of baptizing Mary Anna Joy Bryan. Since the baptism of infants is a relatively uncommon practice in the evangelical church, I usually like to offer a brief explanation. Why baptize babies?

The answer to that question is implied in our text today. When various followers of Jesus brought their infants to Jesus that He might bless them, the disciples rebuked them. They were convinced that these infants were a distraction, an inconvenience, a burden and that Jesus’ work was far too important to be disturbed by them. But Jesus insists that this mindset is deeply mistaken.

Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me and do not forbid them…” This “Let” is not one of allowance but of command. In other words, Jesus orders His disciples, “You must permit the children to come… it is your duty to permit them to come…” And who are these children? They are not children capable of bringing themselves, capable of running to Jesus or vocally confessing His Name. These are infants, brephos, nursing babes.

So why should infants be brought to Jesus? Jesus answers: for of such is the kingdom of God. In other words, God lays claim to the babies of believers and calls them His own, calls them by His Name. Therefore, they should be brought to Him. So how does God mark us out as His own? How does He place His Name upon us? In baptism. We are baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is God’s testimony: you are mine! Therefore, since God claims our children, it is fitting that we bring them to Him for baptism into His Name.

And as we bring these children to the waters of baptism, they teach us an important lesson. Jesus declares, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom as a little child will by no means enter it.” And how do these infants receive the kingdom? Helplessly, passively, dependently. So even as Mary Anna must be brought to Jesus by her parents in order for her to be blessed by Him, so you must be brought to Jesus by the Spirit in order for you to be blessed by Him. Her very dependency reminds us that we are in need of God’s grace to bring us spiritual life and blessing.

Preach the Word: Rebuke!

August 27, 2017 in Bible - NT - 2 Timothy, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - NT - Mark, Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Preaching

2 Timothy 4:1–2 (NKJV)
1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

For the last few weeks, our congregation in Coeur d’Alene has been meditating on Paul’s charge to Timothy to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.” Last week we began looking at the series of imperatives that Paul gives to explain his charge. Paul writes, “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” This morning I would like us to consider what it means to “rebuke.”

The Greek word behind “rebuke” is epitimao and, in the Greek OT, is typically reserved for God’s word of power standing against any and every obstacle. Stauffer notes in the Theological Dictionary of the NT:
God’s rebuke shakes heaven (Job 26:11) and moves the earth and the sea (2 Βασ‌. 22:16; ψ 17:15; 103:7). He [rebukes] the Red Sea and it dries up to let the people of God pass over (ψ 105:9; cf. Is. 50:2 Σ). His Word of command whips up the storm so that men cry to heaven in their distress; His Word of rebuke stills it again so that the waves subside and the cries of distress cease (ψ 106:29)… But for the most part God’s reproof is directed against men, against the high and mighty until horse and rider are bemused (ψ 75:6; 118:21), against the enemies of God and His people whose raging is like that of the sea (Is. 17:13 Ἀ; ψ 9:5; 79:16), but also against the apostate people itself, so that it wastes and perishes.

To rebuke, therefore, is to deliver a sharp warning that the attitude or action being taken is in clear opposition to God’s word. So when Peter declares that Jesus shall by no means suffer on the cross, Jesus rebukes Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Mk 8:33) When James and John, the sons of thunder, want fire to fall on a Samaritan village for its rejection of Jesus, Jesus rebukes them, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (Lk 9:55). A rebuke is a short, verbal thrashing. It is a divine wake-up call.

What this means, therefore, is that the minister of the Gospel must be prepared to speak bluntly about attitudes and actions that are diametrically opposed to the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ. As I emphasized for my flock last week, it is not the minister’s calling to tell smarmy stories that make people feel good about themselves, it is his duty to speak the Word of God to the people of God – and this often means confronting sinful attitudes and actions.
· If you have no interest in understanding and obeying the Word of God, then the Spirit of God is not in you.
· If you think you can thrive spiritually while marginalizing the
importance of your local church, you are likely going to hell.
· If you think God is pleased with your bitterness and resentment just because you have justified it to yourself, you are deceived.
· If you prize happiness more than holiness, then you are serving your own lusts not the Lord of glory.
· If you sit in judgment over your homosexual cousin while routinely indulging your lust for pornography, you may not know Jesus Christ.
· If you are more interested in stockpiling cash than helping the poor, you are an idolater.
· If you refuse to heed correction and to receive rebuke, God will break you and bring your plans to naught.

Do any of these things strike close to home? Then give heed, listen to the prompting of the Spirit, and repent. Turn from your sin, seek the Lord’s forgiveness through the shed blood of His Son Jesus, and cry out for the enabling power of the Spirit to free you from these attitudes and actions and to restore you to fellowship with God and with His people.

So reminded of our sin and that there is only one sacrifice, Jesus the Christ, whose shed blood can cover the guilt of our sin, let us confess our sin, beseeching God’s forgiveness. And as we confess, let us kneel together as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why use leavened bread in the Supper?

April 2, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Communion, Lord's Day, Meditations, Postmillennialism
Luke 13:20–21 (NKJV)
20 And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
For several weeks, we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Last week we touched upon our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly; this week let us consider our practice of using leavened bread in the Lord’s Supper. Why use yeast? Why leavened bread?
Given that the Lord’s Supper has parallels with the old covenant rite of Passover, some have argued that Christians should use unleavened bread in the Supper. Passover was the last day in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, given to celebrate the exodus from Egypt. Since the Lord’s Supper was inaugurated during that feast, some have argued that we should use unleavened bread in our celebration. What should we think of this?
Let us say, first, that there is nothing wrong with a church deciding to use unleavened bread in its celebration of the Supper. “The kingdom of God is not in eating and drinking but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). Further, Paul exhorts us in Corinthians, “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:8). Unleavened bread can be used to convey such an exhortation and there is nothing wrong in its use.
That said, throughout Scripture both leavened and unleavened bread were used in sacred rites. While unleavened bread was used at Passover, leavened bread was used for the peace offerings (Lev 7:13) as well as for the celebration of Pentecost (Lev 23:16-17). Given that the Lord’s Supper is the new covenant feast that centers all these rites in Christ’s death and resurrection, it is important to recall why unleavened bread was used at Passover to determine if that rationale applies to the Lord’s Supper.

According to Exodus 12, unleavened bread highlighted the “haste” with which our fathers were to leave Egypt. God wanted them to leave quickly and so they didn’t have time for the yeast to rise. This sense of haste was confirmed by their dress – they were to eat the meal prepared to travel. “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waste, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste” (Ex 12:11).
So does the Lord’s Supper commemorate this same sense of “haste”? I don’t think so. The only haste seen at the Last Supper is that of Judas who is told, “What you have to do, do quickly!” That is hardly the type of haste we want to imitate! So what does the bread of the Lord’s Supper commemorate? It commemorates the sacrifice of Jesus’ body and the commencement of His kingdom. At the Supper Jesus took bread and broke it; He then shared it among his disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is My body.” The bread points not to haste but to Christ.
And this brings us back to the parable I read earlier. And again [Jesus] said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” Jesus uses leaven to illustrate the pervasive influence of His kingdom, His rule. His kingdom shall operate in the world like leaven, slowly, organically permeating the world until the entire earth is leavened. And it is this characteristic of Christ’s rule that we are attempting to emphasize by using leavened bread: Jesus’ kingdom is like leaven. Slowly, organically the reality symbolized by this bread will become realized throughout the world. Jesus will spread His rule throughout the nations of the earth.

The use of leavened bread, therefore, summons us to be like leaven, to be instruments of God’s work in our families, communities, and workplaces. We are so to live and labor that the entire loaf becomes leavened. Reminded that God has called us to be leaven; to live so that through our witness Christ’s rule on earth is established; let us confess that we often fail to live in this leavening fashion. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Baptism speaks about us and about God

March 6, 2017 in Baptism, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Children, Ecclesiology, Sin
Exodus 20:4–6 (NKJV)
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
This morning we have the privilege of baptizing Carly Bryan. Permit me to say a few words before we do so.
Baptism says something about us and baptism says something about God. First, baptism says something about us. Baptism declares, in no uncertain terms, that we are sinners in need of salvation by Christ. And the baptism of infants announces the sober reality of original sin. Even this child, not yet old enough to know her right hand from her left, has been born in sin. By nature, she is a child of wrath, even as the rest. Christian parents don’t have magic sperm and eggs that prevent the transmission of corruption – would that it were so! Baptism reveals that we are sinners in need of salvation by Christ – only He can save us, we cannot save ourselves.
Second, baptism says something about God. It announces that God has graciously provided a way of salvation, a way to be cleansed of our sin, cleansed of our corruption – both the original sin with which we are born and the actual sin that we ourselves begin to practice. God has provided a sacrifice to cover the guilt of our sin in the Person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism reveals God’s grace.
And the baptism of infants declares something further about God’s grace. The baptism of infants reveals something remarkable about God – His grace is not confined to atomistic individuals but extends itself from one generation to the next. In this baptism, God promises Carly that He will be her God and the God of her children after her – for He has been her parents’, grandparents’, and great-grandparents’ God before her. Notice our text today:
For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

And so Mary, the mother of our Lord, sings in her Magnificat: “For God’s mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Lk 1:50). Baptism reveals something about us – our sin; but it also reveals something about God – His abounding grace. And praise God for that!

Raising Hands in Worship?

February 13, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Bible - OT - Nehemiah, Bible - OT - Psalms, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Meditations, Worship
1 Timothy 2:8 (NKJV)
8 I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;
In the last few weeks we have explored various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship – singing the psalms, publicly reading Scripture, reciting the creeds, kneeling for confession, etc. Every church has such traditions and it is important that we regularly evaluate them to make sure that they reflect, not undermine, biblical principles.
Today I want us to consider the practice of raising hands in worship. I raise my hands to assure the congregation of forgiveness and to pronounce the blessing of the Lord; we all raise our hands to sing at the end of the service. Why do such things? Why raise hands at all?
The answer to this question is supplied by the Apostle Paul in our text today: Paul wants us to raise hands. Paul writes to Timothy, I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands… (1 Tim 2:8). If Paul wants holy hands to be lifted up in prayer, then we need to come up with ways to obey him.
So what are the circumstances in which Scripture records the raising of hands by the people of God? First, God’s leaders often raise their hands to bless the people of God. In Leviticus 9:22, Aaron “lifted his hand toward the people [and] blessed them….” Aaron’s action was later imitated by the priests as they blessed Israel. Most significantly, Luke records that after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, Jesus “led the [disciples] out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them” (24:50). The lifting of hands in blessing communicates visibly to God’s people the reality of the blessing that is being pronounced. In our service of worship, this action corresponds to the assurance of forgiveness following confession and to the benediction at the end of service.
Second, God’s people often raise hands to worship or bless God. The psalmist declares, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name” (Ps 63:3-4). In Nehemiah 8:6 we are told that “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands.” So as we prepare to leave the sanctuary each week, having renewed covenant with God, the entire congregation lifts up holy hands to praise the Lord. Indeed, at certain times of the year, we summon one another to raise hands as we sing in Psalm 134:2, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the Lord.”
Finally, God’s people, especially the men, often raise hands to lift their prayers into God’s presence. David prays in Psalm 28:2, “Hear the voice of my supplications When I cry to You, When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.”Similarly, the psalmist prays in 141:2, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” One of the most memorable stories associated with the raising of hands and prayer is Israel’s battle against the Amalekites. So long as Moses’ hands were lifted in prayer the Israelites had success; but whenever his hands wavered, Israel began to be defeated. So Aaron and Hur got on either side of Moses and held up his hands until Israel achieved a complete victory (Ex 17:8-16).
It would appear, therefore, that lifting hands in worship is pleasing to God. However, while it is a good and lawful action, it is possible to do it wrongly; we can perform a faithful action unfaithfully. For example, our elders would argue that raising hands haphazardly in corporate worship rather than decently and in good order is problematic. And Paul, in our text today, wants men to lift up holyhands without wrath and doubting… He wants us to raise our hands in a particular way. So what does this mean? Consider that by lifting our hands to God we declare two things: first, we declare that our hands are clean, that they are holy, free from wrath; second, we declare that we trust Him, without doubting. “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart…” (Ps 24:3-4a). If we lift up hands that are covered with filth, then this is not pleasing to God; likewise, if we lift up our hands but our hearts are far from the Lord, then this is not pleasing to God. We are to lift up holy hands without wrath or doubting.

So reminded of why we lift hands in worship, let us confess that our hands are often not holy but polluted with guilt and in need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. And as we are able let us kneel as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the 

Repent or Perish

June 19, 2016 in Bible - NT - Luke, Hell, Homosexuality, Judgment, Justification, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Politics
Luke 13:1–5 (NKJV)
1 There were present at that season some who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Last Sunday morning a deeply disturbed Islamic man attacked a gay and lesbian night club in Orlando, killing 49 people and wounding 53 more. Many have wondered how to respond to this tragedy. Does this indicate that those who were slain were worse sinners than others?
Jesus answers this question in our text today in the negative. No – they were not worse sinners. Their sin deserved the wrath and judgment of God and our sin deserves the wrath and judgment of God. Tragic events of this sort are intended by God as a shot across our bow, a warning of the judgment to come on all who spurn His lawful authority and pretend as though there is no higher law over them. The warning from our Lord Jesus Christ is simple, “Repent or perish.”
The reason that these are the only two options is that God is just. He has faithfully revealed His moral law in the human conscience and in His Word. When we violate His law – in minor or major ways – He cannot just wink at our sin and pretend it’s no big deal. Sin is an attack on His honor and an attack on the very foundations of the world. The one who sins becomes objectively guilty in the sight of God. And we have all sinned – we are all guilty.
And because God is just, there are only two ways to deal with our guilt – repent or perish. The first way is to repent: turn from your sin, acknowledge your guilt, and seek the forgiveness of God through the shed blood of His Son Jesus. Jesus is the only fully righteous Man who has ever lived. And He lived and then died and rose again from the dead in order that He might bear the guilt of our sin, that He might take away our guilt. For those who repent and trust in Christ, God’s justice is satisfied, judgment has fallen on Christ, and we can rejoice even in death knowing that God is on our side. Repent.
The second way to deal with guilt is to perish. Stand in the presence of God day by day declaring that the sacrifice of His Son is unnecessary. Tell Him hour by hour that you don’t need the blood of Christ to cover Your guilt. Announce minute by minute that your hands are clean; wash them with water like Pilate and say, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood.” And day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute fill up the full measure of your sin knowing that God will judge you and you will perish. Repent or perish – those are your options.
Do you suppose that those men and women in Orlando were worse sinners than you? I tell you, no, but unless you repent you shall all likewise perish – without hope, without God, and without Christ.

And so reminded of Jesus’ call to repent, to turn from our sin and acknowledge our need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, let us confess our sin to the Lord and cry out for His mercy. And as we confess, let us kneel.

Christmas Homily 2015

December 25, 2015 in Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Bible - OT - Jeremiah, Bible - OT - Zechariah, Christmas, Church History, King Jesus
The passages before us today from the prophets and from the Gospel of Luke share a common theme – the arrival of the Branch of the Line of David. Isaiah first heard God’s promise of the Branch – a king who would rule and reign in righteousness. The Branch would not be like the false shepherds in Isaiah’s day – kings who looked out only for their personal interests, pursuing personal gain at the expense of the sheep. Rather, He would be filled with the Spirit of God, filled with wisdom, knowledge, and discretion – modeling the character of God Himself. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of kings like Manasseh and Amon.
Over a hundred years later, Jeremiah picked up on this same promise. Disgusted like Isaiah with the selfishness and folly of the kings of Israel he reminded his readers of God’s promise through Isaiah. One day God would raise up to David a Branch of righteousness. This king would reign and prosper, saving and protecting His people, upholding righteousness and purity in His person. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of kings like Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.
Another hundred years later, Zechariah returned to the same promise. Though Israel then lacked a king and was subject to foreign rule, God told Zechariah to set a kingly crown upon the head of the High Priest Jeshua. For the Branch would be not only Israel’s king but also her high priest. “He shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne” and, “The counsel of peace shall be between the two offices.” This priestly king would not abuse the authority granted to Him but would rule and reign in righteousness and justice, bringing light to all the world. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of Persia, Greece, and Rome.
But then, over four hundred years later, an angel spoke to some shepherds. The long-promised Branch of righteousness, the Shepherd of Israel, the One who would rule and reign in justice was to be born. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And this would be good news not just for Israel but also for all people, for all the nations of the earth, for all the families of the earth. The light is coming, the world will change. Then glory filled the sky, the light and life of the Messiah’s rule reflected itself in the voices and faces of the angelic host as they declared that the prophecies of Isaiah and of Jeremiah and of Zechariah were coming to fruition. Praise filled the sky as the angels marveled that the mercies of God would now extend to all the peoples of the earth. Light had come!
So what do these words mean for us? Just this: the darkness of the Judaic Age has come to an end. The Judaic Age – when God’s presence was by and large limited to the land of Israel, closeted behind the veil in the Holy of Holies – the Judaic Age has passed. Now the Age of the Messiah has come – all nations have been given to Him and so the Word of Truth, the light of life, is going forth to all the nations of the earth. The Spirit of God has been poured out on the Church and is now pouring forth from her into the world bringing life and salvation in His wake. God has begun to fulfill the promises He made long ago through the prophets. He has given a King to rule and reign in Justice; He has given a High Priest to minister in the Temple. And this King, this High Priest is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Branch from the Stem of Jesse.
It is this transition from darkness to light that we sung of just a moment ago. In the darkness of the ancient world, amidst the rot and decay of paganism, amidst the folly of apostate Judaism, came the Root and Branch of David.
Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half-spent was the night.
And from this Root, this Branch, planted by the hand of God, a great tree has grown which shall one day fill the entire earth.
“This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.”

It is the planting of this Branch, the Branch of Righteousness, which we celebrate today. The light has come – let us feast! Our King sits upon His throne – let us rejoice! Our High Priest has offered up a perfect sacrifice on our behalf and offers up prayers and petitions for us continually – let us give thanks! And let us start even now. Let us pray together:

The Ordinary Means of Grace

November 15, 2015 in Bible - NT - Luke, Church Calendar, Holy Spirit, King Jesus, Meditations, Sanctification
Luke 13:18–19 (NKJV)
18 Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”
As I have emphasized the last couple years at this time, we are often tempted to muddle our Christianity with our Americanness. This temptation to mistake our cultural mileau for Christian piety is not unique to us, but the particular ways in which our culture influences us are unique. One way our Americanness affects our conception of Christianity is our love affair with that which is spontaneous or new or different. We tend to grow tired of, what we call, the “same old thing” and have a hankering for some new fad to bring life back into our Christian walk.
But what Jesus articulates for us in his parables of the kingdom is that the way the Holy Spirit works both in our individual lives and in the life of His Church is better pictured by the growth of a tree than the lighting of a sparkler. Sparklers, of course, are fun and exciting – they burn bright and shed their fire on all around them. But sparklers soon burn out while trees, planted and taking root, slowly grow over time; growing almost imperceptibly, soaking up the nutrients in the soil and increasingly displaying the glory of their Creator.
This steady, slow, natural growth is the way Christ typically works in the lives of His disciples. Normal Christian growth involves long periods of steady plodding – plodding that brings prosperity but plodding nonetheless. Steady plodding. Few sprints; mainly marathons. A long obedience in the same direction.
You may not know, but the last five months in the Church Year are called “ordinary time.” It is a time of year when there are no special feasts and celebrations; just the regular time of the Spirit’s work in the Church. After the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit began working in the Church, gradually transforming the people of God into the image of Christ. Hence the color of this period is green, a color of growth. Tree-like growth.
So one thing that you probably noticed, if you’ve been at Trinity Church a while, is that for these last five months we have used the same greeting, the same words of confession, and the same version of the Creed. For five months. Why have we done this? There’s no biblical requirement that we do so. We could have changed them weekly, monthly, or periodically – and we have in the past. God has left such decisions to the wisdom of church officers. So why have we kept them the same the last couple years? To highlight that the course of our Christian lives is only occasionally interrupted by unusual acts and works of God. More typically God works in our lives through steady plodding, slow growth, gradual transformation – through what theologians have called the ordinary means of grace: the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In a couple weeks we’ll be introducing some changes: entering a new church year when Advent arrives and we’ll have a different Call to Worship, a different Confession, a different Creed. Before we change, I wanted to draw to your attention the fact that for these last five months we haven’t changed. Perhaps you noticed; perhaps you’ve wondered if this is ever going to change. And perhaps you’ve thought the same thing about periods in your own life and spiritual development. And the message of Jesus is that He is at work growing His kingdom and even growing you – so trust Him and keep plodding.

Reminded that Jesus’ work in our lives is often gradual, like the growth of a tree, we are alerted that often our hankering for something spontaneous or new or different is not an impulse of our Christian faith but our Americanness. And this reminds us that we need to confess our fickleness to the Lord and ask Him to enable us to practice a long obedience in the same direction. So let us kneel as we confess our sins together.